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To be a Dirtbag

Words by Elliot Mawson.

Climbing has changed so much over such a short amount of time, splitting up into a number of forks; trad, boulder, sport, to name a few. Ambasssador, Eliot, looks into how the term ‘Dirt bag’ has changed, and what it means to him.

Everyone knows that timeless photo of Fred Beckey, dressed in a crumpled t-shirt with an
old rope thrown around his shoulders, a helmet sat atop of his unkempt head, holding up a
battered cardboard sign with ‘Will Belay For Food’ scrawled in pencil.

Beckey epitomised the life of a dirt-bag

Living, literally out of his bag – hitchhiking, walking and climbing his way around Yosemite National Park. Even after his death in 2017, Beckey’s life is admired, maybe even with jealousy, by climbers around the globe. He was the true
spirit of a dirtbagger, living life in a sleeping bag and in the same wrecked set of clothes. It became an aspiration, and climbers wanted to do just, and only that, climb.

Steve Rhodes – Albarracin

The introduction of Climbing into the 2021 Tokyo olympic games is inarguably a dramatic
step for the sport. Climbing heroes like Shauna Coxey, Janja Garnbret and Adam Ondra (among so many other talented athletes) have been pulled from walls and crags and thrust
into the electric spotlight of mainstream sport. Even Kevin Hart and Snoop-Dogg were trying
their hand at climbing lingo (which is a great clip if you haven’t seen it, by the way). Never
before has climbing been so easily recognised on a worldwide stage, and the original principles of dirt-bags set by Beckey and other heroes may be forgotten. Recently, climbers have been able to train relentlessly in gyms during the week, and head out into the outdoors on weekends and send, no longer needing to live at the crag, and spend hours attempting a single project. While the olympics is a new and exciting prospect for climbing, enticing more WAD’s to try
their hand at it and perhaps causing more development of areas; it may be diluting this original idea of a ‘dirt-bag’, there is no longer any need to live on the edge of primitivity, in a
banged up van or battered car, as crags can easily be found all over, and many are even accessible via public transport routes. However, while this is a new step for the sport, I do not think that it’s entirely negative.

So, what does it mean to be a dirt-bag?

Are they all smelly, unwashed and unshaven adventurers?

I don’t think so, no. For me, a dirtbagger is merely someone who enjoys life in the great outdoors. They don’t have to be gnarled and unkempt, with hair that falls in knots around their ankles, or with armpits that smell so bad they could knock out a herd of elephants, they just have to understand the almost laughable absurdity of a grinding life stuck in a loop of work. The monotonous 9-5 with only a weekend to break it up. The Monday where we must once again don our suits, button up our shirts and plod in synchronicity with the rest of humanity to work.

The new wave of psyched athletes trying their hand at climbing may help shift this worldwide addiction to routine and structure. Why should we have to work every-day? Why should we spend our evenings panicking over overdue deadlines? Climbing teaches us to see life for how it is, shows us that a happy mind is far more important than a heavy wallet. And, if the Olympics broadcasts this sport that can usher in so many into a more peaceful mind and way of life, so be it. In a desperate attempt not to sound preachy, maybe the life of a Dirt-bagger is exactly what is needed in the non-stop bombardment of 21st century life.

Dirt-bags understand the insanity of this life of work, and aim to dilute it with time in the Great Outdoors, whether that be around work, around school, or even quitting and going all the way – living out of a car with a gas stove and a never-ending fountain of psyche.

James Dickinson and Karly Green – Appleby

I believe a dirt-bag is just someone who understands the innate human need for a life outside

Whether that’s a scratty boulderer from Yorkshire, a fell runner from Scotland, or an incredibly accomplished mountaineer like Fred Beckey. They all have one thing in common. Simply ; they love the outdoors.

H. Dickinson – Lockdown back garden camping

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